Not A Loki Affair
♦Tripwire’s senior editor ANDREW COLMAN takes a look at the third Thor film, Ragnarok, out from next Tuesday in UK cinemas, directed by Taika Waititi…
Director: Taika Waititi
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Cate Blanchett,
The third Thor instalment is Film 17 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and (apparently) Phase 3 in its development – corporate-speak no doubt for “approaching saturation, but they keep coming back for more!”. Does the world need another slab of Disneyfied mythological derring-do, with the usual spandex crew? The answer remarkably is yes, as Disney/Marvel have, after an extensive period of fine-tuning, figured out that “there’s no point in taking any of this seriously, don’t you know – so let’s all have a rollicking good time, and focus on laughs!”
And a rollicking, if somewhat depth-free, good time is what is on offer in this intergalactic muddied mess of a saga, which like everything that has come before has plot-holes you can poke a spaceship through, along with the predictable descent into irony-free formula that one would expect. Only on this occasion, rather like Spider-Man Homecoming or the first Guardians outing, what’s on screen captures the spirit of the source material in a far better manner than previously. A lot of this has to be down to lead actor Chris Hemsworth, who deftly excels in balancing the absurdity of it all with the mandatory seriousness involved with the final reel’s denouement.
It begins as it means to go on, with a witty set piece, featuring our thunder god feigning weakness with a stygian grotesque before he reverts to force of nature mode, despatching countless CGI baddies in an orgy of cartoon ultraviolence. From there, Thor returns to Asgard, covertly ruled by his knavish half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddlestone), in order to locate their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). After that brief vignette the two brothers find Odin, who warns them of the goddess of death Hela (Cate Blanchett) who has been released from aeon-length captivity and is hell-bent on exacting revenge. Thor challenges Hela and is savagely defeated, ending up on prison planet Sakaar, where he is captured by the particularly hard-nosed Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and enslaved by uber-decadent overlord Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum).
It is on this garishly dystopian world that the film’s mandate reaches its apex. Adapting plot strands from 2006’s Planet Hulk tour de force comic series, Thor has to endure endless indignities at the hands of various malefactors, such as Valkyrie and Grandmaster, played with hilariously offhand panache by Goldblum, shining as he hasn’t done for a considerable time. There are some excellent, even grand guignol moments here – it’s almost as if, unwittingly, producer Kevin Feige and director Taika Waititi (the “new voice” at Marvel) have fashioned something ambitious that doesn’t involve wholesale graphic destruction. Of course the hokum must go on, and back in Asgard Hela is on the rampage. It’s an odd turn from the greatest actress of her generation (Cate Blanchett) – playing a cross between a pantomime dame, the wicked witch of the west, and Siouxsie Sioux in a bad mood, but everyone wants a piece of the Disney pie, and creditably, she looks the part and is game enough not to phone it in (the same cannot be said for Anthony Hopkins).
There’s enough here for the casual viewer and diehard fan to relish, with all the leads seemingly enjoying themselves, especially Hemsworth, who is terrific. The interplay between Thor and his former Avengers colleague The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is engrossingly amusing, even if it does teeter occasionally in the direction of puerile silliness. Some of the cast have little to do (Hopkins, Idris Elba as Heimdall) other than be plot devices, and the quasi-cerebral coda at the end is stretching it somewhat after all the slapstick hijinks in the middle section, but this “road movie” as it’s been called, breezes by for most of its 130 minute duration.
It’s a lightweight concoction certainly, and its borrowing of tropes from far weightier movies (and Hipgnosis album covers) is a bit rum, but it’s a pretence-free affair that raises the bar, leaving us not wanting a whole lot more, but certainly not wanting less. Plus the art direction and general look of the film is top draw. No doubt about it, it was thoroughly enjoyable pulp entertainment. Valhalla, we are coming!